Saqqara Bird

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by Autumn Studnicka

What is the Saqqara Bird

The Saqqara Bird is a bird-shaped artifact made of sycamore wood, it was discovered during the excavation of the Pa-di-Imen tomb in 1898 in Saqqara, Egypt. It has been dated to approximately 200 BC, and is now housed in the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo. The Saqqara Bird has a wingspan of 7.1 inches and weighs 1.380 oz. It is shaped like what we’d recognize as a modern day airplane with the head of a bird.


Saqqara bird.jpeg

Discovery

The tomb of Pan-di-Imen was discovered in 1898 by a group of French archeologists. [1] The tomb was filled with artifacts, painted walls, mummies and all of their belongings that were left behind to aid them in the afterlife. In the heaps of artifacts of tools, arts, pottery, statues, and more, the archaeologists found a small wooden carved bird. It was found on a table laid there by some unknown human 2,200 years ago in approximately 200 BC. The little wooden bird was nearly perfectly symmetrical. In the museum records it states that it was found by a French archaeologist named “Lauret." At that time the model was labeled as a bird object and stored in the basement of the Cairo Museum in Egypt. Seventy years later Dr. Kahlil Messiha, an Egyptologist, re-discovered the model among other bird figurines. And made them recognize that the bird figurine did not look much like a bird, but resembled more of an airplane.

Victor Loret

As stated in the discovery section the Saqqara bird was discovered my a French archeologist named "Lauret" This could be a misspelling of Victor Loret, who excavated at Saqqara in 1898 and uncovered the tomb of Khuit, one of the many wives of the Pharaoh Teti. Victor Loret was the head of the Egyptian Antiquities Service. He also discovered many other tombs like tombs KV32, KV33, KV36, KV38, KV40, KV41 and KV42.

Dr.Khalil Messiha

Dr. Khalil Messiha was a Professor of Anatomy for the Artists at Helwan University in Egypt. He brought the idea that the Saqqara bird resembled more of an airplane rather than a bird. Also as a member of the Royal Aeromodellers Club and Egyptian Aeronautical Club, he saw the Saqqara bird as something different than the other bird models that were displayed. To him, it showed the unmistakable characteristics of a model airplane. And suggested that the ancient Egyptians were the first ones in flight. To support his claim, he pointed out that many Egyptian tombs contained small models of things they might need in the afterlife. Models of chariots, ships, people, buildings, temples and other items were frequently found when tombs were excavated. Then he made the statement that the Saqqara Bird was in fact a model of the real thing, it could be an Egyptian Aeroplane in miniature.


Construction

Made out of sycamore wood the Saqqara bird is 5.6 in length with a wingspan of 7.2 in. Also the model has a vertical tail, instead of a horizontal one. And did not have legs. The function of the bird is unknown, though its shape resembles a bird, on close observation, it resembles a modern airplane with a head of a bird. It was constructed in 200 BC by the ancient Egyptians.

Context

The bird was constructed by the ancient Egyptians. With the function of the bird being unknown due to lack of documentation. Some believe that it was used as a ceremonial object, a child's toy, or a weather vane.

Psychological Claims/beliefs

Some people believe that the Saqqarra bird may represent evidence that knowledge of aviation and flying machines existed. The claim that the Saqqara Bird was a model of an airplane. Many speculated that the ancient Egyptians were the first to invent aircraft. However, no ancient Egyptian aircraft have ever been found, nor has any evidence suggesting their existence. The Saqqara Bird has a vertical tailplane which, unlike all of the other bird-like artifacts found, had a horizontal shape, more of a real bird's tail. It is also legless and has wings set at an angle which some compared to that of modern aircraft. Making it different and stand out from all of the other bird-like artifacts. Another theory to support this claim is that many Egyptian tombs contained small models of things that the dead might need in the afterlife. Models of chariots, ships, people, buildings, temples and other items were found commonly when tombs were excavated. It didn;t take long for people to believe that the saqqara bird was a model of the real thing.

Attempts to Prove the Claim

Messiha built a model of the Saqqara Bird to test for its aerodynamic efficiency. He noted that it needed a horizontal stabilizer. The claim of the missing tail. He concluded that the flat bottom of the vertical fin had once been the attachment point of a horizontal wing, even though there is no physical evidence of it. He claimed that the critical piece of the tail must have been lost and or fallen off at some point. Typically, he found that with advanced modifications with today's modern knowledge, the model he built flew perfectly well, for only a few meters when thrown by hand. Others later built similar balsa models and found that they too flew well. But the question of balance and flight in the original model, was never evaluated fully. It seems likely that even with the wider body toward the nose, it would not have been able to fly.

Debunking the Claim

One piece of flawed logic is that just because models of real chariots and ships are found in tombs, then the Saqqara Bird must be a model of a real plane. But, not everything found in a tomb is a model, in fact, most things are not models at all. Another claim is the claim of the missing tail. Wouldn’t the tail have been found in the original excavation? Next we have the idea that the Saqqara bird was just not meant/built to fly, that it isn't a model at all. Another idea is that there was a chip in the tail of the figurine where "the missing tail" could have been. But the chip was only on one side of the bird with no other signs of any other physical evidence supporting that there was another piece.

Conclusion

To conclude the function of the saqqara bird is unknown, other theories are that it is a child's toy, weather vain, or a ceremonial object, even these theories have their flaws. They are less crazy and more on the tracks of real archeology, with today's standard measures and practices. In the end, it seems that the ancient Egyptians did it to achieve flight.

Last Words

Today, the Saqqara Bird can be seen in Room 22 of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. The sycamore wood is aged, fragile, and discolored to a dirty tan-brown that stands to its age. After nearly 2,200 years, it is mounted on a post. A small hole has been drilled into the bottom so that it could be propped up for easier viewing. Underneath the wing, there is a number written on to track its place in the collection. Therefore, it is undamaged and it is displayed as it is, the artifact appears today as if it is in flight. Flight is its natural position. It is meant to be a bird.

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References

  1. 1.0 1.1 Flight stories. HistoricWingscom A Magazine for Aviators Pilots and Adventurers. (2017, May 7). Retrieved November 19, 2021, from http://fly.historicwings.com/2015/05/the-saqqara-bird/.